News Column

Tennessee Evolution Bill Becomes Law Without Governor's Signature

April 12, 2012

Jane Roberts

April 11--The evolution bill became law without Gov. Bill Haslam's signature Tuesday, making Tennessee one of two states in the nation where teachers are free to point out flaws in current scientific thought on evolution, global warming and other accepted theories.

The other is Louisiana.

The issue has created plenty of heat for Tennessee with news coverage around the U.S. and Canada and a host of editorials asking Haslam to veto.

In a short statement Tuesday afternoon, Haslam said that while he did not see that the bill would change the "scientific standards" taught in Tennessee schools, he also didn't see it accomplishing "anything that isn't already acceptable in our schools."

He noted that while the bill passed with a three-to-one margin in the House and Senate, "good legislation should bring clarity and not confusion."

"My concern is that this bill has not met this objective. For that reason, I will not sign the bill, but will allow it to become law without my signature."

This is the first bill in Haslam's nearly 15 months in office that he has allowed to become law without his signature.

Although the governor didn't say so, a veto would likely not have killed the bill. Under the Tennessee Constitution, the legislature can override a governor's veto by simple majority votes of the total membership of each chamber -- 17 votes in the 33-member Senate and 50 votes in the 99-member House.

The bill won House approval on a 70-23 vote last year, then Senate approval 25-8 last month.

David Hill, a former FedEx pilot who lives in Memphis, called the action "cowardly."

Hill was one of the 6,055 people, mostly Tennesseans, who signed an online petition by midafternoon Tuesday asking for a veto.

"Previous attempts over evolution have been soundly defeated over and over again," he said. "...They say bringing up these controversies will help your mind, as if these kids are in any position to judge the merits of this or anything else controversial."

The law protects teachers from discipline for teaching scientific subjects in an objective manner or helping students understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories.

The National Center for Science Education quickly posted news that the bill has become law on its website under the headline: "Monkey bill enacted in Tennessee."

"Telling students that evolution and climate change are scientifically controversial is miseducating them," said executive director Eugenie C. Scott.

"Good science teachers know that. But the Tennessee legislature has now made it significantly harder to ensure that science is taught responsibly in the state's public schools."

Monkey bill is a reference to the 1925 Scopes "monkey" trial in which teacher John Scopes was accused of violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach evolution in any state-funded school.

Jerry Winters, state lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, knows of no cases where teachers have been disciplined for criticizing global warming or evolution.

"At the very time the state is placing emphasis on making students more knowledgeable in science and mathematics, it is really moving in the wrong direction to start questioning longstanding scientific facts," Winters said in an e-mail.

"This is certainly not going to reflect well on Tennessee nationally as we seek to attract science-oriented industries into the state."

The House and Senate bills were authored by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, and Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson.

"People who look on this with an open mind will see it calls for critical thinking and helping students develop critical thinking skills and using objective scientific facts.

"... A lot of people who have tried to turn it into something else have not even read the bill," Dunn said.

The bills do not include creationism or intelligent design -- the idea that the world was created by an intelligent being -- because the state board of education curriculum does not include these topics, said David Fowler, executive director of the Family Action Council of Tennessee.

Fowler said he pushed for the bills after receiving complaints from Middle Tennessee parents that a teacher's presentation of evolution "was extremely unbalanced" and that a textbook called the Genesis story a "creation myth."



Source: (c) 2012 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)


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